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May 3, 2003
Column #1,131

SARS vs. Sudan: Which Is More Important?

     Every day there's a page 1 story on the SARS epidemic. There have been 5,400 cases worldwide and 353 deaths. A public hysteria is developing. Though only 41 cases are in the United States and no deaths, a quarter of Americans think that they, or someone they know, will contract SARS in the next year.

     By contrast, in just the three months since President Bush proposed spending $15 billion on AIDS in Africa, "760,000 people have died from AIDS, 1.2 million people have been infected," Bush said this week. 

     Another issue that is vastly more important than SARS which has not received the press coverage it deserves, is the civil war in Sudan between militant Muslims who control the government and Christians who live near oil fields in southern Sudan. 

     "Two million Sudanese have died and 5 million displaced from war related causes, following the declaration of Jihad or Holy War in its most militaristic form," said British Baroness Caroline Cox, president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "The weapons of the Jihad are three-fold: military offensives against innocent civilians, the manipulation of aid and slavery."

     "Typically, the regime will undertake its military offensives in areas which they declare as `no go' to international aid organizations, so that its victims are left without any life-saving supplies and with no one to witness what has happened," she told 1000 Episcopalians at a Global Missions conference in Ridgecrest, N.C. this week based on her 25 visits to Sudan over years, reported David Virtue.

     Former Senator John Danforth was sent as President Bush's Special Envoy to bring about a just peace. He started a negotiating process led by a Kenyan general, that led to an agreement in  October, 2002 calling for "cessation of military hostilities and for unimpeded humanitarian access." 

     On April 2, President Bashir of Sudan and rebel leader John Garang held their second summit meeting and "jointly expressed hope on reaching a final peace agreement by the end of June, 2003." Such a settlement could give southern Sudan a measure of independence and some of the revenue from oil drilling in their area. Based on that, President Bush recently told Congress that both sides are "negotiating in good faith and that negotiations should continue."

     Lady Cox was horrified: "We are alarmed that despite continuing reports of military offensives against innocent civilians, President Bush has softened the U.S. administration stance... by accepting the regime's rhetoric that it is operating in good faith." She told of having walked through many miles of villages reduced to ashes by the government's scorched earth policies.

     Indeed, a State Department report cites "numerous violations of the cessation of hostilities" pledge such as takeover of 16 rebel-held areas and "continued attacks" on civilians. Sudan's government is building a road to the oil-producing areas, and has "burned at least 50 villages within a three-mile radius of the road," according to Sharon Hutchinson, who has just returned from serving on a Civilian Monitoring Team. 

     Both sides agree that Sudanese aerial bombardment has stopped. However, "it used helicopter gunships during its 2003 ground offensive," the State Department reports. Thousands of southern Sudanese were forced from their homes, driven by "killing, rape, abduction, burning of shelters and looting of property (including cattle and crops) necessary for livelihood."

     The Episcopal Church's conference at which Lady Cox spoke, wrote a letter to Bush noting that the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom charged the Islamic government "may be using this period during the cease-fire to rearm and build up garrison towns in the South from which it could launch devastating offenses should the peace talks end in failure."

     Ms. Hutchinson confirms that nine new government garrisons have been erected near looted and burned villages along the new oil road. But even she does not believe the peace talks should be broken off. Instead, she urges the U.S. Government to "force the government of Sudan to demonstrate good faith by pulling its troops out of the garrisons."

     That is the least that should be expected. 

     "Oil revenues are being abused," asserted Lady Cox. "Money is used to buy helicopters and gunships while ethnic cleansing is going on everywhere. All the while, people are becoming Christian by the drove," noting that 11,000 recently came to faith and built seven new churches. 

     She added, "Jihad means forced Islamization. The men are killed and the women and children are forced into slavery."

     "Hear the cry of the Sudanese people," Episcopalians pleaded with Bush. "Insist that the Khartoum government not only negotiate in good faith but act in good faith." 

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